Everyone can utilize tools and technology to make life easier and perform tasks with more efficiency. However people with disabilities face even greater challenges in performing essential tasks in life. These challenges are especially evident with those individuals with a disability involved in agriculture. Farming is traditionally a labor-intensive profession that involves physically demanding work. With the use of assistive technology, farmers with a disability can maintain their independence and productive lifestyle on the farm.
What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology includes any kind of device, modification, or service that will help a person with a disability work and live more independently. It may be low tech or high tech, expensive or inexpensive, but ultimately it helps make it possible for someone to complete a job that might otherwise be difficult. While technology can make life easier on everyone, assistive technology can make farming possible for individuals with a disability.
Assistive Technologies That Are Commonly Used on the Farm
Several assistive technology categories can be used on the farm. Depending on the disability and the challenges being faced, some or all of the categories may be used. These assistive technologies may be designed specifically for a person with a disability to perform a task, they may be technologies that are designed for the general public but have special value to people with disabilities, or they may involve innovative work practices that change the way a task is performed. Assistive technologies utilized on the farm include:
Aids to Daily Living
Devices and adaptations to increase participation or independence in activities such as eating and grooming, as well as routine tasks such as getting out of bed and cooking dinner.
—grab bars, objects with extended handles, anti-vibration gloves, shoes with shock-absorbing soles, remote controls
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
These include equipment and services that enhance face-to-face communication, telecommunication, or other means of communication. Writing aids are also included in this group. Those with communication difficulties can communicate when traditional methods are affected.
—amplified phone, cell phone, computer/Internet access, pens or pencils with grab assist devices
These units make regulating the living or work environment easier to meet specific needs.
—programmable thermostats for heating /cooling, preprogrammed lighting systems, motion or pressure sensitive controls for lighting and opening doors, automated humidity and ventilation systems
Home or Worksite Modifications
These include products that make a home or worksite environment more accessible. Included would be devices to make it easier to enter a building, to use the spaces inside (including lighting), or to move between floors.
—stair lift, electronic openers for doors or gates, accessible entrances, and Universal Design concepts such as lever handles for doors, flat rocker panel light switches, or slip-resistant working surfaces
These include environmental changes, assistive technologies, and techniques or work practices that improve the ability of persons with disabilities to access their work environment and/or complete their work.
—ergonomic work stations, pneumatic or battery operated tools and equipment, ergonomic hand controls, hydraulic or electric hoisting equipment, livestock handling equipment, automated feed equipment, anti-fatigue matting
Seating and Positioning Aids
These products help people with disabilities sit comfortably and safely.
—air ride tractor seats, swivel seating, transfer devices to assist in transferring from wheelchair to seat, garden assistance carts with seat, anti-vibration padding
Vision and Hearing Aids
This is a broad category that includes all types of sensory aids to help people who are blind, low vision, deaf, or hard of hearing. Devices are also available to help those with multiple sensory disabilities, such as the deaf-blind.
Personal Mobility Aids
These help people with mobility limitations move more freely indoors and outdoors.
—devices such as canes, wheelchairs, walkers, mobility scooters, or ATVs/UTVs
Vehicle or Equipment Modification
Products in this category help people with disabilities drive or ride in cars, vans, trucks, or equipment.
—additional or modified steps, motorized lifts, hand or foot controls, hydraulic or electronic controls, hitching assist devices
Prosthetics and Orthotics
Prosthetics are generally devices to help amputees, and orthotics are braces or other products to support joints or limbs.
—myoelectric hand, prosthetic leg, back brace, knee brace, foot pads, shoe inserts
Assistive Technology Preventing Secondary Injuries
Farming with limitations or disabilities can increase risk in an already dangerous occupation and lead to secondary injuries. Assistive technologies have been developed for the farmstead to help individuals maintain productivity and independence, but can also assist in the prevention of secondary injuries. In simple terms, secondary injuries can be defined as injuries resulting from a previous injury or health condition. Often these secondary injuries occur because the farmer may attempt work tasks that exceed his or her abilities. The use of assistive technology can simplify tasks that need to be completed, create efficiency in labor-intensive work processes, and reduce fatigue.
Identifying Assistive Technology Needs
Ohio AgrAbility can visit your farm to help determine assistive technology solutions through on-site assessments and provide you with recommendations for assistive technologies. Recommendations can also include resources and information on worksite and process modification and prevention of secondary injuries. AgrAbility staff can make referrals to funding sources appropriate to your specific needs through Ohio Rehabilitation Services, specialized equipment loans, or other funding opportunities.
This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; Josh Svarda, Program Coordinator, Easter Seals Work Resource Center; and John Zeller, Rural Rehabilitation Specialist, Ohio AgrAbility.
AgrAbility. (n.d.). Assistive Technology. The National AgrAbility Project, Purdue University.
Breaking New Ground Resource Center. (2009). Assistive Technology for Rural Youth: A Curriculum package for FFA Chapters. The National AgrAbility Project, Purdue University.
Oklahoma ABLE Tech. (n.d.). Assistive Technology and Rural Life.
Oklahoma AgrAbility. (n.d.). Assistive Technology in Agriculture. Oklahoma State University.
About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets
These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.